Thursday, February 18, 2016

On the Verge

Photo: from left, “Mary (Dana Galagan). Alex (Maggie Ferguson-Wagstaffe) and Fanny (Heather R. Christopher). Photos courtesy Theater Artists Olympia.

The Geography of Yearning
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Feb. 18, 2016

from left, “Mary (Dana Galagan). Alex (Maggie Ferguson-Wagstaffe) and Fanny (Heather R. Christopher). Photos courtesy Theater Artists Olympia. 
Heather Christopher and Maggie Ferguson-Wagstaffe, foreground: Morgan Picton.
Eric Overmyer’s strange and marvelous comedy, On the Verge, is like a marriage of Tom Stoppard and Monty Python. As presented by Theater Artists Olympia, it is a technical marvel. With little but a few wrapped boxes, some beautiful video projections and a plethora of props, TAO has turned the tiny Midnight Sun performance space into a set to match those in bigtime theaters with big budgets. Kudos to designers Pug Bujeaud (who also directs), Maddox Pratt and Michael Christopher, lighting designer Olivia Burlingame, and videographer Pargoth Productions for turning a black box into a Taj Mahal (speaking metaphorically as the denizens of Terra Incognita often do).
Night scene with the three adventurers.
Three adventurous explorers, Fanny (Heather R. Christopher), Alex (Maggie Ferguson-Wagstaffe) and Mary (Dana Galagan) set off through the jungle in search of Terra Incognita. It is the end of the 19th century and these three women are early feminists.
On their journey they encounter many creatures and people including a cannibal; a snowball-throwing abominable snowman; the apparition of Mary’s husband, Grover; a troll that spouts beat poetry and quotes Kubla Khan — eight characters in all, each played by Morgan Picton.
Throughout, the word play is prodigious and the humor is esoteric and outrageous. The women speak in convoluted and poetic sentences filled with rhyme, alliteration, onomatopoeia and pop culture references from the past to the future as they forge not only through jungles and over mountains, but into the future.
Early in their travels they pick up objects they do not recognize, which they eventually realize are objects from the future such as an “I Like Ike” button and a container of Cool Whip. The names of objects and of people and events come to their minds seemingly out of nowhere in a process they call osmosing. For example, they osmose the words “mo hair” and “Noxzema” and “Jello mold,” and guess those might be what the Cool Whip they find is.
They travel from the past into the future. It’s 1955 and they’re in America where they discover rock and roll and meet Nick Paradise (Picton, of course), a sleazy but nice man who runs a casino.
Mary is the oldest of the women and the most set in her ways; yet she turns out to be the most adventurous of all.
Alex is the youngest and the most enthusiastic. She’s in favor of wearing trousers, which Mary and Fanny think is shocking. Mary says, "The civilizing mission of woman is to reduce the amount of masculinity in the world. Not add to it by wearing trousers.” Alex is a daydreamer, and she is forgetful. She often says the wrong word: "I am delicious! I mean delirious. Not delicious."
Fanny is snooty and stuck in her ways, and disapproves of everything until a (spoiler) and a (spoiler) change her life.
The four actors playing these parts are terrific.
The audience may take many possible meanings from On the Verge. Bujeaud wrote: “I believe the desire to recognize and illuminate our foibles and to move forward is the brave thing. We all end up in the Undiscovered Country, in Terra Incognita, maybe the idiom serves especially best here, the reminder that it is the journey not the destination that is most important.”
Fanny is given to exclaiming, “Wow! Wow! Wow!” That pretty much sums up my reaction to On the Verge (or the Geography of Yearning).

On the Verge, Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. through Feb. 28, closing matinee 2:30 p.m. Feb. 28, The Midnight Sun, 113 N. Columbia St. Tickets: $12-$15, Available at door night of show or online at

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